Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book.
As many of you know, I’m a big fan of PaperBackSwap. I use it all the time to trade books – I request ones I’d like to read and send out ones that I’ve finished reading so that others can enjoy it. It almost functions like a giant online library for me, except with no late fees – I can keep the books I get from there for as long as I wish.
One thing I use PaperBackSwap for is a “wish list” feature. If I happen to see a book that would be compelling to read over a long period, I just add it to my wish list on there and, if someone else decides to post that book, it gets sent to me automatically.
And that leads us back to the Penny Pincher’s Almanac. I was intrigued from the moment I heard about it – 2,753 tips for saving money? That sounded right up my alley – but I had some difficulty locating the book for a reasonable price. So I filed the book away on my “wish list” and promptly forgot about it until one day, out of the blue, it arrived in the mail.
I wish I hadn’t waited.
The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac is pretty much exactly what’s described on the cover – “2,753 surprising ideas for getting the most value out of your money, home, and possessions.” Just leafing through it gets my frugal juices going, encouraging me to try out new things to shave a bit more off of my spending.
Let’s dig in a bit and see what the book has to offer.
A Peek Inside The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac
The book itself is organized into dozens of brief sections centered around specific topics: food, beauty, cars, health and fitness, and so on.
Rather than going through each section, I took a bit of a different approach: I just tried a bunch of different tactics and marked ones that stood out to me. What follows are ten tips straight from the book that really stood out from the pack.
Use a giveaway canvas bag as a diaper bag for your child. (p. 151) My wife and I have fallen in love with reusable bags – our home has a lot of them floating around. One big use for them is short-term diaper bags. Instead of hunting up our old diaper bag and making sure it’s got the things we need, we just grab a cloth bag, throw a snack and a few diapers in it, and we’re good to go.
Swap services to get a gym membership for free. (p. 108) Many gyms will provide a free membership to people willing to teach a class there. So, instead of spending cash to get your workout three times a week, teach a class there, get your workout from teaching, and get your membership for free (and maybe a bit more as well).
Use sandpaper to keep sweaters and sweatshirts pill-free. (p. 61) I had a bunch of old sweaters and sweatshirts that looked very nasty from the number of little balls of lint that had appeared all over them. A bit of rubbing with some medium-grain sandpaper and those pills came right off, making the clothes look like new.
Check your local chamber of commerce for restaurant coupons. (p. 205) In many cities, the local chamber of commerce gives out coupon booklets for local businesses to encourage people to visit them. These booklets are often given out at community events, but quite often, they’re available if you just call and ask.
Host a “jam session” at your house. (p. 210) Want to get some of your friends together for an evening of fun? Know several that have musical ability? Invite them over and tell them to bring their instruments, then encourage everyone to play together and jam. Instantly memorable evening at very little cost. (We planned one of these, but several attendees fell through.)
Stay in a college dorm while vacationing. (p. 235) Many colleges rent out their dormitory rooms at very low rates during the summer in an effort to bring in a bit of extra income. If you’re vacationing in an area, give the local universities a call and see what they have available.
Run your dishwasher at night. (p. 271) Many energy companies offer lower rates at night, plus during the summer, the heat produced by the dishwasher will have less effect on your cooling costs than a dishwasher run during the day.
Buy a car at the end of the month, near the end of the year. (p. 280) Like today, for instance. Dealers are often anxious to meet sales quotas, plus near the end of the year, dealers are also anxious to make room for new models and want to clear out inventory. Hit the car dealer right after Thanksgiving or in that week between Christmas and New Year’s.
Look into medical school clinics for inexpensive but quality health care. (p. 310) Here in Iowa, we’re lucky – the University of Iowa Medical School runs a stellar clinic with reasonable prices, and it’s often considered the place for medical treatment in the state. If you need a medical checkup, see if there’s a clinic offered by a medical school near you.
Don’t buy spaghetti sauce by the jar. (p. 41) This is one of my favorite things to make on my own because it’s so easy. Just use a can of crushed tomatoes (or, better yet, fresh tomatoes that you mash a bit), toss in a good pinch of basil and oregano, a teaspoon of olive oil, and let it simmer for a few minutes. It’s just as good as pasta sauce from a jar and way cheaper. Plus, you can experiment with it to your heart’s desire.
Is The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac Worth Reading?
If you’re into frugality at all, The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac is a book you will get some value out of. The sheer spread of tips is wide enough that virtually everyone will find a good idea or two.
There is one minor drawback, though. With so many tips in such a thin volume, many tips aren’t given their due diligence and receive only minimal coverage in the book. There are a lot of good ideas here, but in places, the thoughts behind them aren’t fully formed. That’s why it’s useful to supplement this book with some good internet searching for more information on specific tips.
Having said that, this is definitely one worth picking up for reference’s sake. I was able to find it rather quickly for free via PaperBackSwap, though you may be less patient.